The International Writers Magazine: Housekeeping
Ben Rietema in New Zealand
Bringing Order to Linen
I looked down at the beer fizzing and frothing on the pavement as it wound its way closer to my feet. The salad and the other grocery items—previously in the incredibly not structurally sound cardboard box—were drenched in booze and covered in little pieces of asphalt gravel. It was a moment when you, and only you, look at the ground and think, why now? A moment that if you had a life’s remote, you would press fast-forward until you were home with nice cup of tea.
A toddler would collapse on the ground and bawl until someone else fixed the problem, and Lord knows that’s what I wanted to do. Instead though, you’re left to deal with it; no one is there to witness or help. And you never really tell anyone the story because “just dropped a beer in the parking lot” would be the story.
I looked up to summon the help of the big man upstairs, but he was off saving orphans in Kenya or redeeming death-row prisoners with more tattoos than days left to live. The sky, however, was blue, a perfect day not to be working, a day to look outside with fantasies of what you would do with all that sun.
It was summertime—pure and simple. The people around here said it was “hot,” but they have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about. Hot means you go for a five-minute afternoon walk in Chicago and crawl back, disillusioned with the world, looking as if you just tripped into a fountain. Hot means you can heat up your lunch by leaving it in your car for ten minutes. Hot means drinking more than your body weight in water and then eking out a tepid, diminutive stream once before you go to bed. So no, it’s most likely in the mid-eighties, and Kiwis need to settle down—but that’s neither here nor there.
My eyes fell back to the asphalt and to the dropped food. We had picked it up at the last house we cleaned, and I was taking it back to the main lodge, our base of operation and where we could gather our things to go home. I was tempted to just leave it there, let the local stray cat get tipsy on the leftovers until someone else better than me picked it up.
It was a simple pain in the ass for any day. But if this event is seen in context, in a general schema of the past days, well then, it takes a significance far outweighing the one-time occurrence. The past day had been a long one, one I’m sure anyone has experienced in their life—even if it’s a nine-month-old with too much shit in his diaper and not enough sleep.
Three times a week, we order the linen. Three times a week we receive an arbitrary amount of towels and sheets that may or may not actually apply to what we first ordered. For the past two days, we had been without face cloths, which—while a small disturbance in the general schema of poverty, corruption, and general debasement of human society—was treated by some with an earnestness and depression rivaling the death of a family member.
This time it seemed we had overreacted. We asked for a massive amount of linen in the hopes that the morons would give us half of it, but from the looks of it, they had given us twice what we ordered. Piles upon piles of shrink-wrapped sheets were mixed among a labyrinth of bath towels, hand towels, face cloths, bath mats, pillowcases, and linen bags. The mound was overwhelming, a brick wall in the road of life.
Disenchantment with each other, hunger, and working ten hours were not helping the general milieu inside the linen room. Usually the team leaders get along fine; they make decisions in a diplomatic manner without resorting to silent resentment and passive aggression, but for this brick wall, some wanted to climb over it; some wanted to go home; some wondered whether it would look cool with graffiti on it. Factions formed; disagreements sprouted; spirits plummeted. Do it now or tomorrow?
I slumped over the sheets as the girls argued, and I watched the epitome of an exhausted, circular argument where nothing makes sense and where a couple of drunken chimpanzees could solve the whole situation much better. Eventually, it was decided we would do it that night, long after all of the others had gone home, and really for all the time we spent bickering, we finished remarkably fast.
We drove back to the lodge, parked, and slogged across the parking lot to sign off on our time sheet. I just entered when I recalled the food, which would surely mildew into oblivion overnight, and left the others to go get it. A bizarre angle, a piece-of-shit box with accompanying salad, beer, crackers, and countless other sundry items, and righteous anger at “the machine” added together to an inevitable conclusion.
And the salad sure would have been nice. Ugh. I nudged the box with my foot as if to encourage it to gather itself and walk to the trash. Time inched on as millions of other things happened around the world—babies came to life; people lost jobs and found them; someone stared into the eyes of their beloved for the last time as another shook hands with their love for the first time. Lost and found. Death and life. Life’s great dance—it’s all a bit complicated, both sad and happy, and I can’t say I understand most of it.
I rubbed my eyes and sniffed, then did what we all have to do. I picked it up.
© Benjamin Rietema May 2015